5 Ways to Stay Strong (and Sane) During a Weight Cut

Since my last meet — the 2018 US Open — I’ve been slowly dieting down, from 214 to 202, to prepare to compete in the 181-pound class at the USPA Tribute meet this August. During that cut, I’ve maintained or even gained strength in all three lifts, and I’ve done so without much, if any, suffering.  

Now, I’m lucky, because I have a great metabolism, and I also eat “clean,” unprocessed foods 100% of the time, which makes weight loss a lot easier. But even if you’re not willing to stick to a diet quite that strict, there are a few things you can do to make your own weight loss program a lot more effective.

Editor’s Note: The content within this article is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional.

1. Have a Timeline.

Weight cuts are like long-distance relationships: they work great for a short while, but if you try to keep them going for too long, you’re probably looking at a long, slow slide towards misery. Try to keep your periods of cutting weight to about 8-12 weeks. This is enough time to make some significant changes to your body composition, but not enough time to run you into the ground.  

One important thing to note: I’m not advocating the traditional bulk-and-cut yo-yo cycle. I think that’s usually a really bad idea. Instead, after you’ve finished your cut (or bulk), it’s best to maintain that level for a while before trying to make further changes.

2. Avoid Training Extremes

If you’ve watched my YouTube series or followed my courses about programming, you know that I focus on three main variables: volume, intensity, and frequency. The combination of these three variables determines how stressful your training is. Obviously, other factors come into play — things like level of psychological arousal or the absolute amount of weight used — but for the most part, if you’re paying attention to the big three, you’re going to be doing okay.

When you’re cutting, you need to reduce your training stress. There’s no one right way to do this; it’s not like you must train low volume when you’re cutting, or drop down to three days of training per week. But you will need to somehow cut back on a combination of training volume, frequency, and/or intensity in order to continue to get stronger or at least maintain strength during a period of weight loss.  Personally, I prefer to cut back on intensity and frequency, and maintain my training volume — but I train using fairly low volumes in the first place.  You’ll have to experiment to find what works best for you!

3. Remember Your Peri-Workout Nutrition.

“Peri-workout” refers to everything you eat around your training: Before, during, and after. While most lifters know the importance of post-workout nutrition, I think that the other two times are equally important, especially during a cut.  Make sure to get a meal with a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats about 1-2 hours before you train, and take in some type of easily-digestible protein and carbs during your training, too.

Personally, I try to consume a full 65% of my calories for the day as part of my peri-workout nutrition. I find that this allows me to push the caloric deficit harder at other times without losing strength.

4. Don’t be afraid of cheat meals.

Cheat meals can be a mixed bag for strength athletes, and I don’t believe that they’re strictly necessary. At the same time, cheat meals can be a really helpful way to give yourself a bit of a physical and mental break from the drudgery of dieting. I suggest that you follow the advice in this article to make your cheat meal as useful and fun as possible.

5. Relax!

Like I mentioned above: You have a limited amount of recovery. If you’re burning it by training and dieting really hard, then it’s important to improve your recovery as much as possible in other ways.  During a cut, try to get extra sleep, make extra “me” time, and and cut back on other stressful activities in your life.  This will not only help you maintain strength — it’ll help you feel a lot better and happier, too.

I might sound like a broken record by now, but weight loss is just like any other goal you might have in the gym: slow and steady is always going to be a better long-term approach than the fast, crash-and-burn method. The single, most important thing to remember is this: Dieting doesn’t mean you’re going to lose strength. You just need to be careful, plan well, and train smart, and you can get strong and shredded without suffering for it!

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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